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More words on what everyone is writing about at the moment

21/02/2011
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To cut to the point (do we really need any introductions for this?): If In Rainbows was a warm, open and inviting album then The King of Limbs is its mirror twin. It’s cold, mechanic, tense, claustrophobic and devoid of obvious hooks and melodies. It’s an album that has a human core inside it but it’s hidden beneath all the layers of drum loops, filters and the thick wall of bass wobbling all over it. Halfway through it reveals a more traditional side but even that’s understated and buried under a general mood of not wanting to open up to the world. It’s pretty much an album they could have only made in their current, completely unchained and independent position. It’s not experimental – hardly anything is these days – but it sees the band embracing one of their more extreme sides. Pulling it off as well, as usual.

The side of The King of Limbs that most people seem to note that it’s clearly an album of two halves. Its first four tracks are almost like one continuous stream of odd time signatures and thick electronic stutter. You can tell them apart but can only describe them in the most vague means – “Bloom” is the opening loopage, “Morning Mr Magpie” is the standout, “Little by Little” is the one that sounds a bit half-finished and “Feral” is the instrumental one.  Taken outside of their context, they aren’t particular discography highlights and could probably be even derided. Together, as a part of this particular context, they become a hypnotic passage of pure rhythm that pounds to the backbone and refuses to let go, inviting the listener to listen through the album over and over again. ‘Hypnotic’ is genuinely the best way to describe it – addictive is another good term. Alone they’d be something I’d most likely if not dismiss then at least not praise so overtly – let’s be honest, I make no claims about having the most sophisticated and varied music taste and this sort of material doesn’t particularly appeal to me most of the time. But this band pulls it off (again; I’m the guy who likes “The Gloaming”, “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors”, etc), and part of that power this time is in the context and chaotic order the tracks weave together.

The second half is then the more open of the two, presenting four highly individual songs: “Lotus Flower” is paranoid, krautrock-influenced groove, “Codex” is the only moment of clarity and even beauty in an otherwise convoluted album, “Give Up the Ghost” is a ghostly acoustic mood piece and “Separator” bounces along on a thin beat with a warpedly relaxed, pseudo-optimistic feel. To counter the tightly unified order of the first half, the second allows the songs to breathe in their own ways and offers the moments that grab you and make you want to repeat the album before the first half sinks in properly. It’s the one where you get those grand Moments you remember first when you think about any albums you like: the wistful horn section of “Codex”, the eery, oddly serene choruses of “Lotus Flower”, the sheer feeling of calmness that radiates from “Separator”, etc.

Both halves operate by their own rules and usually when you put parts that differ in this particular way side-by-side, it’d be the more extroverted one that would seemingly come on the top. But the magic of TKoL is that any such notion of competing sides is thrown away. It’s true that there’s a thematic difference between 1-4 and 5-8 and it’s true that the latter one of those will be the initial standout. But it doesn’t matter in the slightest. There’s a reason these eight songs are together. They flow into one hypnotic groove, a sequence of songs that builds upon the moments that came before and which grows in a natural sense from one mood and musical part to another. What starts out as a claustrophobic, paranoid electronic fit will eventually blossom into a more organic, rested feeling. In other words, TKoL is an album in the truest sense of the word. It’s a cohesive unit where each part works perfectly in unison with the others to create something larger than the sum of its parts. Which makes a guy like me who gets off on cohesive thematic units pretty giddy.

The final word is still open on this one – I tend to use the idea of placing albums in a discography in an order of quality as a sign of whether I feel like the album’s given me the most it can give and I’m at least mostly sure of that, and that’s a feat I find impossible to do with TKoL at the moment. But the feelings are very positive: this is a good album.

As for the conspiracy theories about a second part: I kinda doubt there’s going to be one but at the same time they had long recording sessions and this 8 track package contains very few of the songs that have been played recently by Yorke in his solo gigs. So who knows. I’m happy if this is what we’re getting but I wouldn’t say no to more material, naturally.

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